Reassess your role, embrace change and make a backup plan. That's the advice Gartner analysts are giving to IT professionals on how to approach the coming year.
Predicting that 2005 will be a year fraught with change, Gartner analysts speaking at a roundtable discussion in London Thursday laid out a list of "must do" resolutions to help chief information officers (CIOs) navigate the turning tides of IT.
Recovering economies, globalization and regulatory demands will create a business need for IT, but technology professionals will have to redefine their roles to show that they are as savvy at business as they are with technology, the analysts said.
This means that IT professionals will have to become more involved with the business side of operations, and make technology decisions that are aligned with the strategies and financial goals of their companies. The actual technology they use is unlikely to change over the next few years, but the way it is leveraged will change, the analysts said.
"IT leaders have to be shifting their focus away from simply managing technology and to look to managing business information, processes and relationships," said John Mahoney, chief of research and IT management for Gartner in Europe.
The advice comes as more companies look to slash their IT budgets by outsourcing functions and reducing internal IT staff. If IT professionals fail to show their usefulness in the board room as well as the server room, the could face possible extinction. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2008 most IT departments will employ half as many staff as they do now, Mahoney said.
Given this, IT professionals face some serious decisions over the next year about what kind of role they want to have in their field, the analysts said. They must decide if they want to be technology managers, or business managers with IT expertise, according to Mahoney.
"There's a fork in the road, and because business IT leaders are more rare, we see more of a demand there," Mahoney said.
The news may jar IT workers, but signifies how important it is for companies to be able to quickly steer change in their business, as they face growing competition and unpredictable macroeconomic and political forces, analysts said.
"Chief executives see technology as a barrier to change. This is the most important finding Gartner has made this year," said Mark Raskino, Gartner research director of business process and applications.
Legacy systems, and legacy attitudes about how IT staff should function -- as separate from business decision making -- are seen by corporate chief executives as blockades to business agility, the analysts said.
Technology complexity is viewed as another hindrance to companies' ability to quickly change directions, and Gartner predicts that simplification of IT systems will be yet another line on CIOs' to-do lists for the coming year.
The analysts suggested creating policies to foster simplification, such as requiring that when a new application is added an older application is killed. Gartner also advised IT staffs to cap the amount of vendors they contract, reducing management time and making sure that out-of-date relationships are eliminated.
The analysts also predicted that companies will continue to have a broad array of IT suppliers, and that the days of having one single partner or supplier are over, as businesses look for specific solutions to meet their needs and budgets. However, they urged caution.
"Our advice is to challenge best of breed unless it is critical to your business. Otherwise, good enough is good enough," Mahoney said.
Outsourcing will continue to be a significant trend in the years ahead, the analysts said. This will simplify internal operations, but put more of an onus on IT workers to prove their worth, they said.
To help technology workers meet these challenges, Gartner is releasing a list of top 10 2005 resolutions for the CIO, advising that they:
1. Create alternative plans for the unpredictable year.
2. Decide whether they want to be technology managers or business managers with IT knowledge, and invest in the appropriate skills.
3. Use regulatory compliance demands to invest in related, strategic areas.
4. Get the IT staff media-ready and try to foster external public relations.
5. Drop "on time and on budget" as a key performance indicator for IT staff, noting that this a basic requirement. Set new performance indicators above and beyond that.
6. Get hands-on experience on some new key technologies.
7. Combat IT complexity by creating simplification policies.
8. Elevate business process thinking to the management level, by deciding the process first and applications second, for example.
9. Build a relationship and collaborate with the human resources director on strategy for IT staff changes.
10. Critically review the capability of your IT organization and it leaders.
"Despite the fact that IT is a difficult place to work already, it's going to get a lot more difficult and a lot more complex," Mahoney said. Gartner will formally release its CIO "Must Do" resolutions for 2005 next week.